What exactly was I thinking? Mt. Kinabalu is known as a fantastic place to hike a mountain. Well, I’m just not that into mountain climbing, and I had this vision that there would be helicopter tours to take me up, let me off to marvel at the famous karst formations, and take me back down the mountain all within a couple of hours and with minimum expulsion of energy.
Um no. This is Sabah, Malaysia. It’s a gorgeous part of Asia, but there are no helicopter tours into the park. If you want to see what’s on the mountain, you have to climb the mountain. And oh by the way, a very good friend of mine has done this and loved every minute of it. Good for her.
As we like to do, we rented a car to drive us from Kota Kinabalu to the national park and then on to Sandakan where we planned to stay for a while. Driving in eastern Malaysia was definitely an adventure in itself, but hey, that’s why we like to do it.
Mt. Kinabalu – A Unesco World Heritage Site
After gorging ourselves on chicken wings from a street vendor, we headed to the Mt. Kinabalu Visitor’s Center and looked around at our options. There weren’t many. Really everything is intended for hiking the mountain, which we weren’t doing…maybe someday…
Instead we wanted to do the canopy walk, botanical gardens, butterfly park, and Poring Hot Springs, and as a bonus we hoped to see the famous Rafflesia flower which was flowering nearby.
We headed directly to the canopy walk. We’ve done these a few times before, and for the most part I think they are not all they are cracked up to be. Ideally you would go up, see monkeys and birds flying through the trees all the time communing with nature…but canopy walks run on daylight business hours, which are not ideal for animal or bird viewing. So, you have to go for the opportunity to see the forest from a different angle.
From the tops of the trees, you can look down and see huge fanned-out ferns,glimpses of bubbling brooks, and an occasional crashing on the jungle floor (an animal? or just a falling branch?). You may even see a bird or two, but with the other visitors talking and joking, it’s mainly for the view, and if you are mildly afraid of heights, a bit of a thrill.
The trail up to the canopy took us by huge trees with trunks around eight feet in diameter. And growing among them, in sinister patches, were fern-like fiddleheads with dark, purplish-black berries that, if they dripped on you, you would get itchy and possibly a pesky rash. BTW: thanks to the passerby who told me not to stand under them. We took our time marveling at the flora and insects we saw as the other hikers quickly passed us by with out even a glimpse at some of the smaller wonders to be seen in the jungle.
Visiting Orang Utans at Sepilok
Driving in Eastern Malaysia (Sabah)
The Wildlife of Borneo, A Photo Essay
The Handicraft Villages of Kudat, Malaysia
The Stinky Rafflesia Flower
Durian, The Stinky Fruit You Must Try
Proboscis Monkeys at Labuk Bay
We arrived at the platform, and sat down in the shade for a few minutes. Borneo is hot and humid and we wanted to enjoy the canopy walk. A couple minutes behind us came about eight young people whooping and hollering and having a fantastic time. We were happy to let them pass so that we could take our time and perhaps be able to hear some of the jungle noises. Alas, ten minutes behind them came yet another group talking and laughing all the way through.
After the canopy, we climbed back down the hill to go to the Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Enclosure. Both were fantastic, sporting all kinds of plants and flowers found throughout the park. Neither the gardens nor the butterfly enclosure were very large, but we spent a fair amount of time looking at all of the gorgeous varieties of butterflies and moths.
And then it was time to do Poring hot springs, which may have been completely natural at one time, but now are not. The “springs” are pools; man-made, tiled pools, where families go to swim, have picnics, and just spend their holidays. It really is not pretty; it is more commercial. It is not at all what I was expecting, and we decided it just was not our cup of tea, so instead we drove on to the tea plantation where we were staying for the evening.
I would like to say that Mt. Kinabalu has a lot to offer, but we certainly did the “light” version and I think our experience suffered for it. Was it beautiful? Yes. Were there things to do? Yes. Was it a must-do? No, not the way we did it. Really, if you are going to the mountain, climb the damn thing and get the full on experience. Just do it!
Have you been to Sabah, Malaysia? Mt. Kinabalu? Did you climb the mountain? Please tell us your thoughts in the comment section.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.